Tagged: Our planet

The next mass extinction is already happening and we’ve got a seat in the front row

I learned a new word this week: Defaunation – the loss of animal populations as a consequence of human activity. Kind of like deforestation, you know, but with animals. The term was coined by Professor Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University, who – together with other scientists – published some pretty freaking scary research findings yesterday.

According to these scientists we’re right in the middle of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. These used to be caused by asteroid strikes and such – think dinosaurs – but if you look around at what’s been happening on our planet it probably comes as no surprise to hear that we – as in humanity – is responsible for the next extinction. And it will hit us, too. We’ve basically signed our own execution order.

Professor Dirzo has spent years studying the consequences of defaunation – what happens to an ecosystem if one species of plant or animal goes extinct, and how far-reaching the consequences can be.

Well, the answer is: pretty damn far-reaching. The effects can be global. They can kill us.

Here’s an example that shows how: These researchers have been conducting experiments in Kenya, studying areas that have been isolated from large mammals – elephants, zebras, giraffes – to find out how the ecosystem responds to the removal of these species. They found that pretty soon rodent populations will grow massively, because they find food and shelter in the seeds and shrubs that are now not being eaten or trampled by the big guys. We know rodents carry all sorts of diseases – the rodents in Kenya, for instance, carried the plague, among others. More rodents means more pathogens and a much higher risk of diseases spreading among human populations. And the more densely populated an area, the more defaunation happens, the more rodents you’ll get… Well, you get the picture. Mass epidemic of plague. Cheery prospects.


So, what needs to happen is this: We need to protect the animals – the elephants and giraffes, the rhinos, the tigers, the whole lot. And not just because they’re cute and majestic. But because they are part of a very, very fragile ecosystem that keeps a fine balance between all the species, making sure each of us has a chance to survive.

Of course this means stopping deforestation and other exploitation of the land that these animals need as their natural habitat. And it means stopping the hunting and poaching and illegal trade in wild animals and animal products. It means a whole load of people deciding to be more responsible in how they treat the environment.

Hopefully these researchers can shout loud enough and raise enough awareness. Because maybe, if the ultimate goal is not ‘save the tigers’ but ‘save humanity from extinction’, it will just change people’s minds enough for us to realise that this is serious.

Fore more news about the future, read our website and magazine Factor. It’s not all doom and gloom. We also look at happy and exciting stuff – space travel, floating cities, flying cars…everything that the future could bring.

Picture of the Week: Steve Bloom’s wildlife photography

Here we go with Picture of the Week #3, and once again it wasn’t really possible to actually keep it down to one picture.

Steve Bloom is another of those People I Shoulda Known About (but didn’t until I had to look them up for work). He currently has a new book coming out, titled Trading Places – The Merchants of Nairobi and has also got a massive portfolio of absolutely stunning wildlife photographs. If you have a look at his ‘Animals’ galleries, don’t miss ‘Water’ and ‘Elephants’!

I love animals (as you’ve probably guessed from my rants about live duck bags and squirrel kebabs), so of course I instantly had a whole list of favourites when I looked at Blooms’ project galleries. Here are my top three:

Chimpanzee by Steve Bloom
A chimpanzee photographed at Monkey World ape rescue centre in the UK, from the Water collection. I love how he seems to be catching raindrops in his hand in this thoughtful pose while all the others are huddled together to shelter from the rain.

Wildebeest by Steve Bloom
Stampeding wildebeest crossing the Mara River in Kenya, also from the Water collection. This photo looks like an elaborate painting to me. The powerful movement of the herd seems to be frozen onto a canvas, with the dozens of horns rising out of the mist creating a pattern that’s at once beautiful and unsettling. Makes the animals look like the spirits of all the wildebeest that have migrated there over time rather than one actual herd. (Or maybe that’s just me seeing ghosts everywhere again.)

Polar bears by Steve Bloom
And, of course, this selection wouldn’t be complete without a bit of ‘Awww, fluffy!’ These three Polar bears, photographed in Manitoba, Canada, are just too cute. The one that’s looking at its hand makes me squee every time I look at the picture. Also makes me wanna paint its nails! The one lounging around next to it looks like it just needs a remote control and a can of coke. And the third is just kind of, ‘Meh, this sucks. Can we do something fun?’

I’ve always loved photos that bring out animals’ personalities – and Steve Bloom is clearly a master at it. I only wish we could all spend more time studying animals and less time driving them to extinction.

…and a bag of live ducks, please. Not.

Found this picture on the National Geographic Magazine website.

Yep, that’s live ducks. Crammed into a plastic bag – for ‘easy transport’.


A couple of years ago my dad found two tiny little baby ducks paddling in our pool. We could hear the mother calling them from the woods next to our house, but she wouldn’t come out. When it got dark, we gave up the search for her and I looked after the two little ones overnight. They kept trying to communicate with their reflections in my wardrobe mirror and I had to lay streets of loo roll all across my room because they shat everywhere. They kept me awake quacking in their little box next to my bed all night, and when I finally gave in and took them out at dawn, they fell asleep in my hands, nibbling at my fingers in their sleep. In the morning they had a bath in my grandparents’ rainwater fountain. When we took them to the river to set them free, they wriggled out of my hands, plunged into the water and swam off with another duck mother and her chicks. I sat at the river bank crying for hours.

Maybe I’ll just add the bag of ducks to my list of reasons for being a vegetarian. Because, frankly, I’m sick of people ridiculing me for not eating meat anymore because of the squirrel kebabs.

Every time you buy a Pet Shop Boys CD, a rescue shelter puppy dies. (Seriously. Ask Peta.)

The word “absurd” has reached a new dimension of meaning today. Also forever changed have the words “ridiculous” and “ludicrous”.

Animal rights organisation Peta has asked the Pet Shop Boys to change their name. For the sake of shelter dogs. Or pet shop dogs. Or pets generally – I can’t exactly remember which as my mind was too busy jumping back and forth between variations of LOL and WTF while I was reading the Times article.

(Yes, I’m reading Times Online again after a temporary boycot following the Michelle Obama fake lashes investigation.)

So, Peta thinks the Pet Shop Boys should change their name, which they chose for themselves more than 20 years ago, and which has pretty much become a household name in the music scene. Apparently, that rather random band name does not comply with political correctness. In the universe of pets, that is. And maybe also in the universe of complete numpties.

The politically correct name suggested for the Pet Shop Boys by Peta is – and you might want to hold on to your desk for this one – the Rescue Shelter Boys.

And here we pause for a moment to let you finish ROFLing, catch your breath and climb back on your chair.

Yes, they’re serious.

Peta reckons that listening to the Rescue Shelter Boys instead of the Pet Shop Boys will make people stop buying bred pets in shops and get their puppies and kittens from – you guessed it – rescue shelters instead.

Now. Nothing wrong with Peta’s good intentions here. We all know the devastating consequences of breeding on the health and general well-being of all sorts of dog breeds. And birds don’t belong into cages. And so on. In short, pet shops are bad. I’d go with that any time. I got my dog from a rescue shelter in Greece. The poor pup had been through five years of neglect, abuse and disease, and yet she’s the loveliest, cuddliest, most loyal dog you could possibly imagine. My money, and my pets, will never cross the counter of a pet shop.

But I seriously doubt that a pop band’s name will in any way influence anyone’s pet buying habits. People who like bred cats or dogs will buy ridiculously overpriced bred cats or dogs no matter what the Pet Shop Boys call themselves. I even doubt that name has ever led anyone to think of actual pets. Anyone but Peta, that is.

Well, Peta got me to think about it now. But their suggestion has made me think more along the lines of “are you guys fucking kidding?” than of anything relating to animals.

They’re not kidding, by the way. And neither are they kidding with their campaign to turn fish into Sea Kittens to make them more likeable (and less appetizing). I can’t quite shake off the impression, though, that Peta’s Sea Kittens might fail to appeal to anyone above nursery age.

Just to round up. Peta = good. I’m all for ethical treatment of animals. I mean, I gave up sushi and chicken fajitas for squirrel’s sake (and I’m sticking with it). And I still can’t read about the slaughter of baby seals in Canada without bursting into tears. Well, you get the picture. That said, I really don’t think Peta is doing itself a favour, in terms of being taken seriously or getting people to support it, with petitions à la Rescue Shop Boys (or Sea Kittens, for that matter).

Although I have to admit I’m a little curious what name change they would suggest for Fury In The Slaughterhouse.

Bliss On The Free Range Farm, anyone?

Keep your bloody forks off the squirrels!

Okay, so the Sunday Times told me yesterday that celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal will be cooking squirrel on TV.

No way, I thought. This can’t be true.

But it’s in the Times, so I’m sort of inclined to believe it.

And then there are Simon and Caroline Spiller, who landed a hit with a squirrel barbecue dish at their restaurant and, riding the wave of squirrel slaughter success, founded a company called Squirrel Direct that sells, well, squirrel meat. Oh, and a few weeks ago they introduced their new squirrel kebab, which could also be called quite a hit, selling 40 times in the first 90 minutes.

Still not entirely convinced of the truth of this story, I made the mistake to consult my old friend Google. And within seconds I stumbled across more squirrel delicacy and some pretty disturbing pictures.

How sick is that?!

But then, I shouldn’t really be that surprised, considering that I have a dad who likes to treat himself with a kangaroo or crocodile steak every now and then. Which always results in the same discussion.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter what animal you eat, does it?”

But! Kangaroo!

“Well, it’s not really any different from eating a chicken, is it?”

But! Squirrel?

In fact, he’s right. I’m a vegetarian now.